Station Windows Are an Object Lesson in Preservation

Any personal views expressed on the Michigan Historic Preservation Network  blog are the writers’ own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Michigan Historic Preservation Network.

by James L. Hamilton

MI Central Stations New Windows

The Michigan Central Station, enshrined on the National Register of Historic Places, has suffered years of neglect. Now, 1050 windows are being installed in the office tower, but they are not historically appropriate for the building. The design of these new modern windows conflicts with the architectural design of the station. This outcome was entirely avoidable. Historically correct windows would have cost about the same.

The windows being installed will help protect the building from any further deterioration. No doubt about it. However, historically correct windows would provide the same protection, would not entail any significant difference in cost, and would complement and enhance the architectural design.

Commentary about these windows by historic architects and historic preservation experts recently has been reported in the Free Press and the Metro Times. I have talked to several others. Among this knowledgeable group, the opinion is unanimous that the windows are not appropriate for the building.

The critique goes like this. The architectural design of the office tower is strongly vertical. The structure has multiple vertical brick piers between the windows that rise until they meet the rows of stone columns at the top two stories of the building. The original windows contributed to this verticality. Each window opening held a pair of narrow (vertical) double Detail Historic Windowshung windows divided by a prominent (vertical) element. Each window sash had two panes of glass, which were long (vertical) panes side by side. The details of the window design were part of the overall architecture of the station. The new windows do not have this verticality. They are boxy and flat with thin frames and cross members that do not have the dimension of the originals. The window frames are a light color, while a dark color would be appropriate. The glass itself has a blue tint completely unlike the original window glass.

Since the original window sashes are missing, replacements were needed. However, several window manufacturers are able to create modern windows that would look exactly like the originals. Their windows also have all the thermal characteristics of “modern” windows. The Detroit Historic District Commission has seen several proposals for historically correct replacement windows in buildings like the station. The windows in those proposals cost no more (and usually less) than the windows going into the station.

This is the object lesson: historic preservation often can be done right at no more expense than doing the wrong thing.

The owner of an historic building is only a temporary owner: the owner is only a steward. For a building on the National Register, responsible stewardship entails an obligation to know how or to learn how to do proper rehabilitation and preservation. An historic architect or expert on historic windows could have advised an appropriate window replacement.

In front of the office tower, the lobby building is much more architecturally significant than the office tower. The lobby has large, arched, elegant, steel windows. These windows need to be restored and preserved, not replaced. Imagine new modern boxy windows in the lobby.

Front Entry

Before there is an irreversible decision on the windows in the lobby building, its stewards should consult with historic architects or experts. Restoration of those windows probably would be cheaper than replacing them.

Some National Register buildings also are in official City of Detroit local historic districts. The station is not. For that reason, the Detroit Historic District Commission has no oversight of the building and had no opportunity to help the owners understand what would be appropriate and to push the window work in the proper direction.

This object lesson applies widely in historic preservation. Choosing the wrong paint color for a building is no cheaper than choosing a historically appropriate color. A correct roof color is no more expensive than a wrong color. Usually, restoring original windows and doors to preserve the proper historic look of a building is no more expensive than the cost of buying modern replacements that diminish its appearance, that are lower quality, and that puts quantities of material in landfills.

Sometimes historically correct work may cost a bit more, but in many cases the added cost is small (at least as a percentage), and the difference it makes for a building can be enormous.

* James Hamilton is Professor Emeritus of Wayne State University. A long-time resident and past president of the Boston Edison Historic District, currently he is a Detroit Historic District Commissioner.


Posted in #michiganplacesmatter, buildings, Education, historic, historic preservation, Historic Windows, History, Michigan, Michigan Places Matter, repair, Return on investment, Uncategorized, Window Replacements | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wood Columns Can Be Repaired: Save Them!

by James L. Hamilton, Boston Edison Historic District, Detroit, MI

Columns are always a character defining feature in historic buildings. Keeping columns in good condition is essential for historic preservation.

Columns can be maintained, repaired, and restored. If owners don’t know this, they may conclude that the only solution to damaged columns is replacement. It is not.

Knowing what to do is the key to saving columns.

Large columns are the foremost feature of this well-known Boston Edison house.

Large columns are the foremost feature of this well-known Boston Edison house.

Small columns add elegance to this Boston Edison house.

Small columns add elegance to this Boston Edison house.








Preventive maintenance is the first step in preserving columns.

Moisture is the main concern. Columns deteriorate when moisture gets trapped inside and cannot evaporate away.
• Wood rots
• Paint peels
• Columns come apart or crack

Keeping columns dry is the principal goal of preventive maintenance: Caulk, Paint, Vent.

Caulk at all joints and seams to keep water out. But don’t plug vent holes!

Paint. A solid paint film also keeps water out.

Vent. Hollow columns usually vent out the top into the building framing. If necessary, air vents can be added to columns to let air circulate inside and evaporate away any moisture.

Bases often are the first element to begin to rot. Be sure that water drains away from column bases and does not pool around them.

Repair and Restoration

If columns do deteriorate, the important thing is to know that they can be repaired and restored. If it’s a big column, it could be a big repair! But it’s always possible.

Here’s How-To-Do-It!

I have collected articles by persons who are (or have become) experts in column maintenance, repair, and restoration. The articles collected here demonstrate how-to-do-it. With their guidance, owners can undertake the repairs.


Dealing with contractors is more successful when you know what needs to be done and how it should be done, even if you cannot do it.

The web site can help owners. An owner who knows that columns can be repaired and knows roughly how to do it will not be misled into doing the wrong thing.

One example: contractors may tell you repair is impossible, because they don’t know how to do it! Don’t believe it. Contractors want you to do what they know how to do.

Another example: contractors may tell you they can fix columns, when in fact they do not know how. The danger is that they will do something incorrect. Either the problem won’t be fixed properly, or the repaired column won’t look right. Ask how they will do repairs.

The web site can help contractors. An owner may have a reputable and trusted contractor who has the carpentry skills to do column repairs, if he/she just knew what to do and how to do it. In such a case, a contractor can use the web site to learn from experts how to do a first-class repair or restoration.

Knowledge is Power.




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The Michigan Historic Preservation Network (MHPN) was pleased to bring its 35th annual statewide conference to the City of Midland. Over 370 participants gathered at Northwood University on May 13-16. Drawn by the theme “Always Seeking Modern,” participants were enthusiastic about meeting in the city that was home to Alden B. Dow, Michigan’s Architect Laureate, and today offers one of the nation’s most impressive concentrations of Modern architecture by Dow, Francis E. “Red” Warner, Jackson B. Hallett, Robert E. Schwartz, and others.

EHRobinson_Conference79 smallIn addition to the five tracks of sessions and tours, there were many special events. Wednesday’s “Great Michigan Road Trips” provided guided travel in the region for 78 participants who either ventured into Gladwin, Clare, and Isabella Counties to study rural preservation, or around the Bay Region counties of Midland, Bay, and Saginaw to study preservation-based revitalization. Thursday, which drew 184 registrants, included a “Town and Gown” Welcome Lunch featuring Midland’s Mayor Maureen Donker and Northwood President Keith Pretty; the MHPN’s 2015 scholarship recipients were introduced.    IMG_6284

Friday’s 219 registrants included 143 participants who gathered to hear Keynote Speaker Alan Hess, architect and architecture critic for the San Jose Mercury News, who contextualized Michigan’s primacy to America’s Mid-Century Modern design. The day closed with 129 awardees and guests celebrating the MHPN’s Annual Preservation Awards. On Saturday, the MHPN was delighted to work with Michigan’s State Historic Preservation Office to present a full-day symposium titled “Michigan Modern: Design that Shaped America.”

EHRobinson_Conference43 smallMidland’s gathering was the MHPN’s third largest among the MHPN’s 35 annual conferences held in 24 different communities. (Note: Flint in 2012 with 389 participants and Marquette in 2013 with 382 are the first and second, respectively.) Thirty-six of Michigan’s 83 counties – or 43% – were represented in Midland with the top five counties being Midland, Ingham, Wayne, Washtenaw, and Oakland. Just over 5% of the audience came from out-of-state. Many participants tapped the 75 hours of continuing education credits offered by the American Institute of Architecture and the American Institute of Certified Planners. The conference bought almost $114,000 into the City, a total augmented by people who stayed at other than the conference hotels, went out for dinner, enjoyed a nightcap, or “Made it a Midland Weekend” that included shopping and sightseeing.

LR_0196“The Michigan Historic Preservation Network warmly thanks the community of Midland and Northwood University for their hospitality, the State Historic Preservation Office and the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio for their close working partnership, the Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation for its generous financial support, and the many Midland residents who served on the Conference Planning Committee, made presentations, led tours, and welcomed our participants to their city,” stated conference organizers.

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Make it a Midland Weekend!

Are you coming to the 35th Annual Preservation Conference hosted by MHPN in Midland?  While at the conference there will be plenty to do.  But, there is so much to do in the city and surrounding region, you may want to stay a day or two longer! Savannah Raus-Wurth, MHPN Communications Committee, has been hard at work gathering a list of fun things to fill your time (outside of the conference, of course) during your visit to Midland and the greater Bay Region.

You can,

• Indulge in a local pint from Midland Brewing Company, brewing together since 2009,
5011 N Saginaw Rd, Midland, MI 48640


• Visit Creative 360 Stage, Studio, and Gallery where activities include Kripalu Yoga for Health & Well-Being, Expressive Watercolor, and Collage for beginners and beyond, 1517 Bayliss St, Midland




• Visit Roll Arena, featured in “10 great places to let good times roll on skates” U.S.A Today, 2909 Bay City Rd, Midland

• Cross the “Tridge” , a three way footbridge located over the Chippewa and Tittabawassee Rivers, Downtown Midland the-tridge

• See Dahlia Hill has over 3,000 dahlias in over 250 varieties and various sculptures,
2809 Orchard Dr, Midland

• Indulge in a gourmet meal at the H Hotels Café Zinc, 111 W Main St, Midland

• Watch your food be cooked at Genii’s Japanese Steak House and Sushi Bar,
2929 S Saginaw Rd, Midland

• Have a cocktail at the Oxygen Lounge, 111 W Main St, Midland

Farmers Market• Grab some produce and be on your way from the Midland Farmers Market,
111 W Main St Midland

• Try fois gras brulee at table, located inside Midlands H hotel,
111 W Main St, Midland



• Try the Vegan cuisine highlighted at Heathers Restaurant, featuring 5 different chefs,
205 3rd St, Bay City

• Catch a show at the Delta College Planetarium, 100 Center Ave Bay City

BuildingOutsideSummer-680x383• Visit the Midland Center for the Arts, or one of their member groups, where not all the art is inside!
1801 W. Saint Andrews Road

• Relax at the Athena Salon and Day Spa, 321 East Wackerly Road, Midland

• Have a meal on the Creek Grill Giant outdoor deck, or enjoy some beach volleyball,
1259 S Poseyville Rd, Midland

• Imagine That! Is an artist’s co-op that features different artists monthly as well as unique jewelry and gifts, 147 E Main St, Midland

• The Northwood Gallery is a showcase of contemporary art created by local artists,
102 E Main St, Midland

•Whichcraft taproom supports local businesses by serving just local Michigan Breweries and Wineries, 124 Ashman St, Midland

• StrToddWalsh_DowGardens6oll the grounds and butterfly house at Dow Gardens, the 110-acre garden & conservatory displaying over 1,700 kinds of plants, 1809 Eastman Avenue, Midland

Posted in #michiganplacesmatter, Bay City, Conference, Education, historic, historic preservation, History, Make it a ..Weekend!, Michigan, Michigan Places Matter, Midland, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

#Michiganplacesmatter Spotlight: Midland

by Scott Slagor

Have you ever been driving along I-75 and thought, “I keep seeing signs for Midland, I wonder what that place is all about?.” Hopefully, you have marked your calendar for this year’s MHPN conference: Always Seeking Modern; May 13-16 in Midland. I made a trip to Midland myself a few weeks ago to investigate what architectural gems conference-goers may find.

The first thing I noticed driving into the city was its vibrant downtown; with busy and crowded streets early on a Saturday morning. I immediately pulled over to get a better look at the 1924 Arts and Crafts style Midland County Courthouse. The courthouse has beautiful tall windows, stone cladding, and murals that depict the county’s picturesque forests, and cultural heritage of Native AmericMidland County Courthouseans and early Euroamerican settlers.


West on Main Street, along the Tittabawassee River, is a fabulous residential district that contains some of Midland’s earliest residences. Many of these date from the mid-nineteenth century through the early twentieth century, with occasional mid-twentieth century surprises. This neighborhood is the focal point of one of the conference tours.

West Ave HD

Midland is known for its mid-century Modern architecture. The well-known mid-century architect and native Midland son, Alden B. Dow, designed numerous residences and buildings throughout the city with innovative and pioneering designs, as did some of his contemporaries. The post WWII wealth in the community prompted a boom for high style modern buildings throughout the city. Several of these residences are included in conference tours.

mid-century house

Another set of striking resources across the city are fabulous mid-century Modern churches. Each one was completely unique, and frankly unlike any Modern church I had seen before. The First United Methodist Church, across from the courthouse, does not resemble a church at all from the exterior, rather a public building with its low roof and overall horizontal emphasis. I slammed on my brakes driving by the 1967 Blessed Sacrament Church. I found myself awestruck by the graceful rise of the circular roof to a very Modern steeple. Both churches are featured on a conference tour.

UM Church

blessed sacrament
Driving around Midland is a visually appealing experience. The city has a wealth of popular and high style architecture spread along its tree-lined streets. I highly encourage exiting the freeway and checking it out. If you seek the most informative visit, be sure to attend MHPN’s annual conference: Always Seeking Modern. Remember, conference prices haven’t been increased since 2008, plus there is special student/senior and many of the  individual tours and sessions have al a carte pricing so there is really no good reason not to attend!

*all photos are courtesy of Scott Slagor

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by Tim Bennett


The Greek Revival Warner house was built in 1855 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Warner pioneer homestead, located in Brighton Township, Livingston County, Michigan, was occupied by five generations of the family for over 170 years. The property was first purchased by Timothy Warner, a settler from Livingston County, NY, in 1841 for $384. The farm progressed from an eighty-acre untouched “wilderness” to nearly five-hundred acres of cultivated land in six sections of the township. At its peak, around 1875, it was listed as the 11th largest farm by acreage in Livingston County. The original residence included a log cabin that provided the family with the comforts of home for roughly fifteen years until it was destroyed by fire. In its place, a Greek Revival frame house was built in 1855. The home still stands today and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a largely unmodified example of mid 19th century residential architecture. Historical, genealogical, and archaeological research has been featured in periodicals such as the Chronicle, the Michigan Archaeologist, and Michigan History magazine. Archaeological fieldwork has been ongoing for seven seasons yielding thousands of artifacts from dozens of categories. The Warner site (20LV334) is one of the few historic sites in the state excavated by a direct descendant.

Due to financial difficulties, the now 12 acre farm was sold on land contract that concluded in May 2014. However, just months later, in December, the farm was purchased by my wife and I, a sixth generation descendant of the original pioneers. The actual process of purchasing the property was anything but straightforward. One of the most surprising roadblocks involved the inability for most banks to finance a property with agricultural use. We were informed that any mortgages underwritten through Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac would not be approved for properties listed as agricultural. Fortunately, despite encountering a number of other hurdles to surmount, determination and perseverance ultimately prevailed.

Students, Michigan Archaeological Society members, and family members assist in excavation.

Students, Michigan Archaeological Society members, and family members assist in excavation.

Besides the obvious connection that a family pioneer homestead provides, the property offers much in the way of our research interests and activities centered around historic preservation, genealogy, archaeology, and history. Immediate plans for the house include rehabilitation of the exterior. The previous landowner provided a discount to the tenants to scrape and paint the siding. They did scrape much of the paint off this fall but it quickly became too cold to paint. So next spring we plan on removing the old paint and giving it a fresh coat of white with forest green accents on the trim as well as making repairs to some of the siding and trim. The interior has had work to repair the plaster in line with National Register standards and is actually a considerable improvement over its previous condition. My wife has already been selecting period wallpaper to cover the plaster walls. We are planning on furnishing the home with circa 1900 era items and a number of family members and friends have already generously offered to return or loan period heirlooms. We also plan to use the house to display excavated materials found at the site.

Tim Bennett excavates Feature 15, a post Civil War era trash pit that produced hundreds of 19th century artifacts.

Tim Bennett excavates Feature 15, a post Civil War era trash pit that produced hundreds of 19th century artifacts.

Continued archaeological work is also planned. Despite seven field seasons at the site, there is still much to investigate and a number of research questions to be answered. Of particular interest will be completing excavation of the dry-set stone-lined well that yielded thousands of artifacts dating from the 1850s to 1910. The contents of the well deposited in the 18” shaft appear to be a clean out of the house in April 1910 when my great grandparents were married and moved in. Over seven cubic feet of cultural material has been recovered from the well including a wide variety of ceramics, shoes, irons, wood barrel staves, glassware, cast iron stove parts, glass chimney globes, bottles, marbles, etc.

We intend to continue farming on the property. I’ve spoken with the farmer renting the hay field about possibly plowing it next spring. The plowed field will allow us to do a detailed surface survey to determine if there were any other outbuildings or artifact concentrations beyond the yard adjacent to the house.

In the coming months we hope to get a bronze National Register plaque for the house potentially with an image of the house on it. We’re also going to be looking into applying for a Michigan Historical marker.

I’ve been making wheel thrown pottery for nearly 20 years and we recently incorporated a company called Pleasant Valley Pottery, named after the Pleasant Valley area where the farm is located. The items offered by Pleasant Valley Pottery are actually inspired by 19th century artifacts recovered at the site as well as other historic sites around Michigan. We hope that pottery sales will help support at least in part some of the preservation endeavors as well as costs for property taxes, insurance, and upkeep. We have been encouraged by sales of PVP items around the state this year and look to expand into other historic preservation institutions.

As usual, we will continue our outreach efforts through presentations, published articles, and participation at various events. So far, I’m scheduled to present at Chippewa Nature Center, Midland, on March 11 and will participate in an event regarding historic ceramics on August 20 at Walker Tavern, Brooklyn. We also hope to participate in Archaeology Day at the Michigan Historical Center, Lansing, again in October this year. One article regarding an interesting find at the site is pending publication in the Michigan Archaeologist and several others are in the works.

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#michiganplacesmatter: A Guide to Historical Road Trips Though the Peninsula State.

By Scott Slagor, MHPN Communications CommitteeMPM _Scott Slagor

Highways are dull. Even the most scenic of highways become monotonous after hours or, even minutes, and offer little insight to the communities they bypass. Have you ever found yourself wondering about the towns you pass on regular highway journeys to an annual family vacation, or wedding on the opposite side of the state? Do you have a hunger to understand the cultural identity of Michiganders and the state’s history? I have found myself wondering these things, and over the past couple years have developed a knack for finding historic gems off the beaten path across the state.
I actively post pictures of my journeys to Facebook, Instagram, and soon Twitter. I have gained numerous followers, and many want to know how I find these places. It is sometimes assumed I find these resources through my job, for which I travel often, but in reality I seek out historic places in my everyday life. The steps I follow are shared below so you can discover your own #michiganplacesmatter!

Be Intentional  

Downtown block, Business 131, Constantine, Michigan

Downtown block, Business 131, Constantine, Michigan

A Michigan Places Matter road trip does take some planning, if you know you have to be at a wedding shower 100 miles away in the early afternoon, budget a couple extra hours of travel time to take the side roads. You will be thankful for the extra time, it is easy to get distracted on these road trips, to linger on the Main Street shops and side street neighborhoods of the communities you pass through. Know ahead how much traveling you anticipate and which places you want to visit.

Google is Your Friend

William G. Thompson House and Gardens, 101 Summit Street, Hudson, Michigan

William G. Thompson House and Gardens, 101 Summit Street, Hudson, Michigan

Mapping your road trip isn’t difficult. You can simply type your destinations into Google Maps and click the “avoid highways” option. Many GPS units also have this option. I like to alter the routes by clicking on the map to make points, and dragging them to neighborhoods I want to include. Generally, I have found that there is an old State or U.S. road that will provide a direct route, and pass through historic downtown cores. Using the maps, I also investigate areas that are natural locations for historic places. In addition to old major roads, look for waterways and railroad tracks, such resources were natural places for unique industries and neighborhoods to develop.

Really, Google is Your Friend!

Before you visit a community, it is a good idea to see what places it values. I will often review my map and do an image or web search on the communities I plan to drive through. This may reveal places that are less obvious to a passerby, and will often cue you in on places to stop. For instance, I would not have found the William G. Thompson House and Gardens in Hudson, Michigan were it not for a Google search. The house is located several blocks off the main drag, and I would have missed it entirely were I not intentional.

Review Online Databases and Local Organizations

Block of buildings in the Old Town Historic District, Lansing, Michigan. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Block of buildings in the Old Town Historic District, Lansing, Michigan. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places

Databases are helpful in finding properties that have been designated. The National Parks Service has an online database that includes properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places. However, that website is currently out of commission and is soon to be updated. In the meantime, you can download a spreadsheet with all of the National Register listings. If that is too much of a hassle, I have found that Wikipedia usually has a reliable list of National Register listed properties, entered by county. By searching the community name and “historic preservation” or “history” the search usually turns up locally designated historic districts, or historic societies, which generally include broad range of places.

Bring a Camera, Share Your Photos

One of my most popular #michiganplacesmatter photos, received over 100 likes on Instagram.

One of my most popular #michiganplacesmatter photos, received over 100 likes on Instagram

This last step is not mandatory, but preferred. If you find a great farmstead, or downtown streetscape, or manufacturing center on your trip, share it with the world! Upload your photo to social media, and use the hashtag #michiganplacesmatter to raise awareness of the beautiful places across Michigan. Your experiences will inspire others to seek out the beauty in historic places within their own town, and even travel to our beautiful state.

Now that you’re equipped with a methodology, get off that highway and explore! To view the previous road trips of myself and others, search #michiganplacesmatter on any social media source. If you have a particular place you want shared, you can contribute to this blog, email your entry to:

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